McLane talks short session during Prineville town hall


Key issues covered included marijuana legalization, gun control, and the state budget

by: JASON CHANEY - Rep. Mike McLane (RIGHT) talks to Prineville resident Jeff Papke following his town hall at the Crook County Library on Friday.

With few days remaining before the start of Oregon's 2014 legislative session, Representative Mike McLane met with local residents during a Friday morning town hall.

A crowd of about 35 people showed up at the Crook County Library as McLane covered a variety of topics that he and other state lawmakers will consider during the upcoming 35-day session.

He mentioned a host of bills during the hour-long meeting, including some that would raise taxes on cigarettes and reduce the tax cuts recently approved during the 2013 special session. Other proposed laws would regulate pesticide use and address genetically modified organisms.

However, McLane devoted much of the town hall to covering some of the high profile bills that will emerge in the session as well as what he will focus on during those 35 days. One such task includes a budget rebalance.

McLane explained that of those needing more funding, the Department of Human Services and Department of Corrections, collectively, have asked for about $150 million more.

"That takes our ending balance almost to zero," he said, "If we have any correction in estimates of our revenue, then we have got to make some cuts, so everyone is nervous right now about what we need to rebalance."

Despite the agencies' requests, McLane is not overly alarmed by it, noting that $150 million is a small percentage of Oregon's $16 billion state fund.

One topic discussed spawned input from several audience members. A bill has been introduced that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in Oregon. The legislation would be referred to voters for approval.

McLane said he has heard that an initiative for legalization is coming, after Washington and Colorado approved the legal use of the drug. However, he does not consider that a reason for the Legislature to join the effort.

"My view is let it (the citizen-sponsored initiative) come," he said. "There is no reason the Legislature needs to jump ahead."

Comments on the drug and the impact of its future legal status varied. City of Prineville Planning Director Phil Stenbeck, for example, noted that marijuana legalization would have huge land-use implications.

"The planning directors statewide are keeping an eye on that," he added.

Mid Oregon Personnel President Greg Lambert pointed out that after Washington and Colorado make the drug legal, he had five local candidates for full time work lined up. Four of them failed their drug test.

"As the state discusses this, you might want to consider how much more it is going to cost unemployment and other things," he said.

Prineville resident Lexie Tombleson later offered a perspective on how legalization could affect the youth, despite the fact that the law would only allow consumption by those 18 years or older. She explained that her daughter, who is an at-risk youth counselor, found that two-thirds of the children she worked with were introduced to drugs by their parents.

"By making it available to people 18 and over, you are actually making it available to kids as well."

Another hot-button issue addressed was gun control. McLane said that a bill has been introduced in the Senate that would require background checks on all private gun sales. He does not believe the legislation has enough votes to pass the Senate, but if it did and made it to the House, he would vote against it.

McLane told the audience that background checks will not stop incidents of gun violence, and he would rather focus on stopping the people behind the shootings.

"Frankly, when it comes to violent acts being committed, they are connected to untreated mental illness," he said.

Following the town hall, McLane had only three days to go before diving into the legislative process again in Salem. He told the audience that he anticipates a busy schedule as about 300 bills could be introduced.

"It's a fast-paced session," he said.